Illustrated Vancouver Vol 29 – The Union Steamship Watercolours

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I believe this post solves one of the great mysteries I’ve uncovered since starting Illustrated Vancouver. For the past year, I’ve been trying to track down the whereabouts of the S.P. Judge watercolours that once hung in the Union Steamship boardroom. Ironically, they may have been under my nose the entire time!

I first learned of these paintings from Gerald Rushton’s book Whistle Up the Inlet, the Union Steamship Story. In the final few pages of the book, he briefly mentions:

Captain Terry later sent me the water colour paintings of the early Union fleet done by S. P. Judge of the Vancouver Art School in 1905. They had hung in the board room and in my office, and it was a gesture I appreciated.

I’ve mentioned before that Gerald Rushton wrote the book on Union Steamship twice; actually, he may have written three or four, if you include this booklet from 1923, as well as the Personality Ships of British Columbia which contains his compact history of the Union Steamship Company of British Columbia.

I tried contacting his family to see if they recalled whether these paintings were handed down to someone, as I firmly believed these were significant enough to belong in one of our local museums. After speaking with Gerald Rushton’s grandson, he did recall some paintings, but he seemed to think they were taken to a Vancouver art dealer. That’s where the trail went cold for a while…until I made a return trip to the Maritime Museum!

There in front of me, hanging in their permanent collection, were two watercolours by S.P. Judge, one featuring the Union Steamship vessel the Capilano, and another featuring the Coquitlam (items 1991.188 and 1991.189). In fact, I had asked the museum months previously if they knew the whereabouts of these Union Steamship watercolours, but since they aren’t actually labelled “Union Steamship”, they were unaware of their existence. It was a big thrill to suddenly recognize what I had been looking for after nearly a year of searching! Clearly I should have been spending more time at the Maritime Museum!


The Union Steamship Capilano by S.P. Judge, 1905

I love the fact that doing art history research can sometimes make some fairly significant discoveries. Take for example, this mis-attributed Picasso that was donated by Raymond Leowy to a museum in Indiana which was discovered because a researcher was simply looking for the word “gemmaux”.

Also hanging in Maritime Museum’s permanent collection at present is a watercolour painting of the Vancouver Harbour (1907) looking towards Hastings Mill as sailing ships load lumber (Mary and Bill Everett Family Collection, 000.086.046).


Vancouver Harbour looking towards Hastings Mill by S.P. Judge, 1907

And in their online hidden treasures, they display another watercolour that features a Royal Vancouver Yacht Club yawl racing on English Bay, circa 1910 (Mary and Bill Everett Family Collection, 000.089.047).

I contacted Patricia Owen, curator of the museum, to see if any other paintings from this series had survived. Sure enough, after searching their database, she found 6 more watercolours by S.P. Judge in their collection! These other paintings are titled:

  1. Camosun
  2. Cassiar
  3. Comox
  4. Coulti
  5. Senator
  6. Moonlight

Indeed, four of the six names above once graced Union Steamship vessels (the company had a policy early on to use west coast Indian names beginning with the letter “C”). Number four, the Coulti was in fact, the dubious tug boat that caused the wreck of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s wooden sailing barque the Robert Kerr in 1911. The Robert Kerr was known as “The Ship That Saved Vancouver”, earned when she became a refuge for residents fleeing the great fire of 1886. Last year to commemorate the centennial of this shipwreck, the Underwater Archaeological Society of British Columbia placed a plaque at the site of this shipwreck (watch video).

The fifth painting, the Senator, goes back to the earliest roots of the Union Steamship Company. From wikipedia, “Initially a cross harbour service with the steamers Senator and Lonsdale, the line was asked to take on more roles, calling in at Howe Sound, Gibsons Landing, and various logging camps and sawmills. The demand outstripped the availability of vessels.”

The sixth painting titled Moonlight might well refer to romantic moonlight cruises that Union Steamship offered. Depending on the year it was painted, it may or may not have hung in the Union Steamship boardroom, but the subject matter is almost certainly related. From the wikipedia entry for the Lady Alexandra: “Popular Vancouver orchestras were recruited to play on the company’s “Moonlight Dance Cruises” which left every Wednesday and Saturday evening.” I do hope we will get a chance to see these six paintings in future exhibitions at the museum.

The fact that we can now fairly certainly attribute the origin of these watercolour paintings is fantastic news. I always feared the worst, afraid these paintings could be lost forever without proper acknowledgement of their lineage and historical significance. One last question remains – who donated the Union Steamship paintings? Records show that Mary and Bill Everett donated three of the ten paintings, Kate Pegram donated one in 1973, but as for the others, it’s not immediately clear. There is one clue, however. The Capilano and the Coquitlam were donated in 1991, and Gerald Rushton passed away in 1993. Could it be that Gerald Rushton donated these himself!? It might take a bit more research to determine this with certainty, but it would be most appropriate if this was the case.

Extra special thanks go to the donors of the S.P. Judge paintings, the Maritime Museum for preserving these artifacts, and curator Patricia Owen for answering all my questions!

To conclude this post and demonstrate the graphic abilities of S.P. Judge, I’ve added three magazine covers that he did in 1908 for Westward Ho! (1907), renamed Man to Man (1910), then British Columbia Magazine (1911). I’ve already featured one of them before, but they are worth a repost. It’s all part of my master plan to raise the profile of Mr. Spencer Perceval Judge (1874 – April 26, 1956)!

Westward Ho! magazine cover by S.P. Judge, January 1908


Westward Ho! magazine cover by S.P. Judge, April 1908

Westward Ho! magazine cover by S.P. Judge, May 1908